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Monday, March 05, 2018

Ministers continue to demonise benefit claimants

Hopes that the largely unfair and arbitrary sanctions policy practised by the Department for Work and Pensions might be moderated have been dashed as a result of Ministers shelving a promised reform.

The Independent reports that a “yellow card” system, giving claimants 14 days to challenge a decision to dock their benefits on the grounds it was imposed wrongly, was pledged more than two years ago in October 2015. But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has now admitted that the move has been postponed because “an evaluation has proved complex”. No date for its implementation has been agreed.

At the same time the number of sanctions has started to rise again, due to an explosion in the number of punishments imposed on claimants of universal credit. The paper cites the example of one claimant who was recently docked benefits for missing an appointment to receive universal credit because he was in an operating theatre at the time.

The DWP later accepted it as a valid reason and issued a back payment but the damage had already been done as the loss of money resulted in the claimant being evicted.

In another similarly alarming case, a man on the Merseyside was sanctioned for missing a job centre appointment while he was in A&E. On that occasion, he pleaded with hospital staff to ring the job centre, fearing his benefits would be lost, but the sanctioning went ahead:

The warning system was first promised in October 2015 by Iain Duncan Smith, then Work and Pensions Secretary, who was under growing pressure from MPs.

He told MPs: “People are notified of a sanction and it is imposed immediately afterwards. In some cases, claimants go on to challenge the decision and the sanction may be overturned.

“We will trial arrangements whereby claimants are given a warning of our intention to sanction and a 14-day period to provide evidence of good reason before the decision to sanction is made.”

The trial, in parts of Scotland, led to almost 500 people successfully explaining why they did not deserve punishment after being accused of failing to meet their commitments in return for benefits.

A year ago, the DWP said claimants from the trial were being interviewed to compile a “final report” for publication in Spring 2017, but it never appeared.

Instead, Mr Field has now been told, in a written parliamentary answer, that “the finalisation of the evaluation has proved complex” and there is no date for publication.

Maybe if the Government stop obsessing with Brexit and got on with governing situations like this might not arise.
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